Gear of the year: Jon Woodhouse's 2016 MTB picks

Fancy carbon, shiny metal and some pretty wood

While 2016 has been a bit of an odd year when it comes down to various political upheavals, it's actually been a pretty calm one for mountain bike tech, with an almost complete lack of strange new standards to keep the fires of internet comment hatred burning bright. That's not to say there's been nothing new and exciting, far from it. Here are the things I really enjoyed over the past year...

 Scott Spark

Scott's new Spark range is super versatile — and capable too
Scott's new Spark range is super versatile — and capable too

It might seem like a bit of a cop-out to choose a range of bikes rather than just a single one, but the new Scott Spark platform happens to be a mightily impressive piece of design that happens to come in a huge range of wheel size and spec options. All-out cross-country racers can go for the rollover of 29” wheels or the more agile handling of 27.5” items, while anyone that enjoys their riding a little more relaxed can opt for a Plus tyre option.

Whichever way you want to cut it, the attention to detail is extraordinary. The top line models have carbon fibre frames that are some of the lightest in the business, while the revised, more progressive suspension design means they perform much better out on the trail too. It’s not surprising that the top-end 29er race bike took a gold medal under Nino Schurter at the Rio Olympics, while the 27.5” machine did exactly the same in the women’s race with Jenny Rissveds.

Even if racing means little to you, the Spark is still an impressive piece of work. I’ve been riding the hugely capable and entertaining Spark Plus 700 Tuned for a fair while now and it’s an amazingly flattering bike, both uphill and down. The fat plus tyres mean there’s enough grip to let you steamroller rocks and roots, while the incredibly low 11.4kg weight and on-the-fly shock adjusting system means it skips merrily up the hills too.

Trek Remedy 9.9 RSL

The Trek Remedy 9.9 RSL out on the trails

I’ve always had a bit of a strange relationship with Trek’s trail bike range. While they’re invariably well made and always feature innovative new technology, I’ve always felt that they’ve struggled to live up to the hype on the trail. The new Remedy has totally changed my mind however. It’s got much improved geometry for a 150mm trail bike, with much more reach and a slacker head angle, the latter being adjustable via flippable chips in the seatstay. 

You've got the poison, Trek's got the Remedy
You've got the poison, Trek's got the Remedy

The top line Race Shop Limited model I spent a lot of time on also gets a full OCLV carbon fibre frame, a slightly longer travel 160mm fork plus a very trick selection of bits. Thanks to some clever construction, the frame is extremely torsionally stiff, giving great precision without being overly harsh and deflecting when it hits bumps. It might be really expensive, but happily the new Remedy range stretches down to much more affordable aluminium framed bikes, so there’s a bike to suit almost every budget.

Fox Transfer post

The Fox Transfer is an all-new design
The Fox Transfer is an all-new design

Fox’s first attempt at a dropper post was a bit of a commercial flop, despite time proving that it was an incredibly tough and reliable unit despite the lack of refinement. Second time round and Fox has scored a hit with the Transfer, which addresses many of the issues of the DOSS. There’s more travel with a 150mm option, a choice of internal or external routing and a simple but smooth cable operated remote.

Instead of the three fixed positions of the old unit, it’s now a stepless design, with the return speed being dictated by how hard you press the remote. It’s fast, smooth and so far all the ones we’ve tested have been totally reliable. It’s the dropper post to beat.

e-MTBs

This Focus has two batteries, which probably means twice the fun
This Focus has two batteries, which probably means twice the fun

Yep, it’s a pretty broad stroke but 2016 was the year that e-bikes landed in earnest and much as this might set the internet on fire, I’ve been loving them. There are legitimate concerns about access and user conflict, especially in the USA, but there’s a distinct whiff of hysteria about some of the claims that they will bring about end times. Like most things in life, any issues are likely to be more due to the lump of meat operating the thing than the thing itself.

I’ve ridden quite a few now and, while there are some excellent bikes out there, I’ve yet to find one that’s absolutely perfect so I’m not going to choose a specific model, more just the concept. I’ve had one of the most entertaining days I’ve ever had on a bike messing about with a trio of e-MTBs and mates in the mountains of North Wales and I’ve ridden up trails that were steep and technical enough to prove as serious a challenge as a descent in the Alps. The one constant was the huge, huge grin I had plastered on my face throughout.

Oddly enough for someone that’s always suffered climbs to find the sweet descents, to be honest, I find e-MTBs more amusing uphill than on the descents, where the weight makes them a bit dull and unreactive. Yeah, they’re definitely not the same as entirely pedal powered bikes and no, they definitely can’t be compared to proper motorbikes either, but whatever this new sport might be, it’s definitely fun. That’s why we ride in the first place, surely?

SRAM XX1 Eagle

SRAM's shiny cogs of gold were a highlight of the year
SRAM's shiny cogs of gold were a highlight of the year

There’s not much more that can be said about SRAM’s new mountain bike drivetrain that hasn’t been said before, but whatever you might think about adding another gear and that great big 50T cog, if you ride it then it’s obvious that it’s a big step forwards in performance. It’s much smoother in shift feel than previous SRAM drivetrains and the wider range means it’s another nail in the coffin for front chainrings and the design compromises that they make for frame designers.

Hurly Burly 2016 downhill year book

Think of this as many screens, stuck together
Think of this as many screens, stuck together

Despite working for BikeRadar, helping fill the internet-tubes with fresh new content, I’ve got a huge soft spot for printed words and pictures. No matter how good your website is, it’s hard to beat the look, feel and smell of paper and there’s a certain degree of nostalgia for eagerly awaiting a new magazine to arrive each month.

The Hurly Burly downhill yearbook takes that to another level — in fact comparing it to a magazine is rather unfair to this bit of printed loveliness. It’s full of stunning shots by snappers as talented as Sven Martin, Duncan Philpott and Sebastian Schieck, following the drama and action of the 2016 Downhill World Cup season, all stuck together lovingly with a load of written contributions that help add depth and detail to the images. It’s a thing of beauty and once you’ve finished poring over it, it’ll make your coffee table look much, much better.

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